United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
LEANNA L. PEACHEY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S DECISION
GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.
This action seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's ("the Commissioner") decision denying Plaintiff Leanna L. Peachey's applications for Social Security benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found Plaintiff had several severe impairments, including major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, asthma, and obesity, but retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform unskilled work with many restrictions.
After carefully reviewing the record and the parties' arguments, the Court finds the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
Procedural and Factual Background
The complete facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.
Plaintiff filed her applications in August 2009, alleging a disability onset date of July 4, 2009. The Commissioner denied the applications at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held a hearing, and on October 21, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, which granted her request for review. On March 8, 2012, the Appeals Council remanded the case for a new hearing to: (1) develop the record concerning Plaintiff's mental impairments; (2) reconsider her RFC; and (3) if necessary, to obtain evidence from a vocational expert ("VE"). The Commissioner held a second administrative hearing on September 4, 2012, with a different ALJ. The ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled, and the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 24, 2012, leaving the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).
Standard of Review
The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled, that is, unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
A federal court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability benefits is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough evidence that a reasonable mind would find it sufficient to support the Commissioner's decision. Id. In making this assessment, the court considers evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision, as well as evidence that supports it. McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000). The court must "defer heavily" to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available zone of choice, and a decision is not outside this zone simply because the court might have decided the case differently were it the initial finder of fact. Buckner, 646 F.3d at 556.
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred as a matter of law because: (1) she failed to consider information and observations from a third-party source; (2) she failed to properly consider Plaintiff's obesity; (3) her RFC determination is unsupported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole; and (4) she failed to recognize that Plaintiff could not perform the jobs identified by the VE. These arguments are without merit.
A. The ALJ properly considered information from the third-party source.
Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ failed to consider the third-party statement from Defendant's own employee, a claims representative who interviewed Plaintiff. This employee, identified only as "G. Barr, " reported that during the interview Plaintiff had difficulty with understanding, coherency, concentration, talking, and answering questions; that she was very anxious, speaking rapidly and constantly; that she had trouble staying focused, going "off on a lot of tangents;" and she "made lots of random comments." R. at 304-05. The employee concluded that it was a "[d]ifficult interview." R. at 305.
Plaintiff, however, overlooks that the ALJ noted this interview and briefly discussed it in her opinion. R. at 14. In fact, the ALJ used this interview to support her finding that Plaintiff had moderate difficulties with respect to concentration, ...